David Johnson was a football machine in 2016.
The Arizona Cardinals running back has been hyped up all offseason after racking up more than 2,100 yards from scrimmage and 20 total touchdowns in his sophomore campaign. For fantasy owners, he’s expected to be one of the top players in 2017. He’s as good of a receiver as he is a rusher.
However, while Johnson was putting on his show last year, the rest of the team wasn’t so hot.
The Cardinals entered the 2016 season with Super Bowl hopes after an NFC West title and a 13-3 record the year before, but were met with disappointment, finishing outside the playoffs with a 7-8-1 record – the first losing season of Arians’ tenure.
Arizona is far from ready to roll over and start a rebuild with the likes of Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald still leading the roster and searching for a championship. But just as Johnson’s dominance wasn’t enough on its own to put Arizona in the win column last year, it won’t be enough in 2017.
This team is well equipped to be a championship contender if it plays to its potential, but each position group needs to do its part.
The Cardinals were smoked with injuries across their offensive line in 2016, which made Johnson’s performance all the more impressive but killed the offense’s hopes of finding consistency. Having a healthy line – particularly when it comes to guard Mike Iupati and tackles Jared Veldheer and D.J. Humphries – would go a long way toward helping the offense return to the top.
Veldheer and Humphries are also set to swap sides. As a first-round pick in 2015, Humphries is expected to have the skills to take on top pass-rushers, while the veteran Veldheer should be more comfortable on the right side.
Jones played well last year, racking up 11 sacks and four forced fumbles, but he didn’t take over games like peers Khalil Mack and Von Miller. And they should be considered his peers, after Jones signed a five-year, $82-million deal.
Nkemdiche didn’t make an impact as a rookie following his first-round draft selection, playing in just five game and making only one tackle. He needs to start playing like a first-rounder.
This is probably Arizona’s strongest crew after adding versatile athlete Haason Reddick in the first round. With safety-turned-linebacker Deone Bucannon providing lockdown coverage, Markus Golden getting pressure off the edge, and Karlos Dansby providing veteran wisdom in the middle, this could be an elite linebacking corps.
Whether it be third-round pick Chad Williams, speedster Brittan Golden, running back-turn-receiver Andre Ellington, or someone else, the group needs to have more than one reliable veteran and a pair of speedsters.
It’s a talented but thin unit running Arizona’s “No Fly Zone.” Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu can lead the way with safety Antoine Bethea, rookie Budda Baker, and sophomore Brandon Williams following – but they need to stay healthy, or things will get ugly.
At the end of the day, the fate of the Cardinals’ season rests on Palmer’s shoulders. The team didn’t draft a successor for their 37-year-old field general as he pondered retirement this winter.
Palmer’s arm strength is a major factor, as the Cardinals run a vertical offense with many receivers who can take the top off a defense. He got caught rushing to push the ball downfield as the Cardinals trailed in games last season, and it didn’t work out.
An improved offensive line and, of course, Johnson’s developing talents should help Palmer tremendously, but it will take a full team effort to get the team a W on a weekly basis.
(Photos courtesy: Action Images)
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